This Russian Lawmaker Thinks the US Can Take Russia Off The Internet

Are Russian fears that the US can take the country offline unfounded? Images mixed by Tetyana Lokot.

Are Russian fears that the US can take the country offline unfounded? Images mixed by Tetyana Lokot.

A deputy in the Russian parliament thinks the United States might cut off Russia's Internet and suggests Russians take measures to get ready for the information blackout.

Ilya Kostunov, the deputy in question, believes the US might want to undermine Russia's Internet access in order to destabilize the economy and to agitate the social and political sentiment in the country. He has also asked the Ministry of Communications to prepare a contingency “civil defence plan” in case the RuNet goes dark, according to TJournal.

Всё чаще из стран блока НАТО раздаются угрозы уничтожить экономику России. […] Учитывая, что за адресацию в интернете отвечает подконтрольная США ICANN, отключение интернета действительно возможно. Американцы могут отключить интернет, например, перед выборами и обвинить в этом российские власти.

More and more often we hear threats from NATO countries to destroy Russia's economy. […] Since the routing on the Internet is controlled by ICANN, which is controlled by the US, switching off the Internet is actually possible. The Americans can switch off the Internet before elections, for instance, and blame Russian authorities for this.

It's worth noting that in March 2014 the US announced its intent to withdraw from its managing role in ICANN, the non-profit managing IP addresses and domains (stewardship of the IANA functions could pass on to the “global multistakeholder community” when the US contract with ICANN expires in September 2015), so Kostunov's claims are somewhat threadbare in this regard. But he is not to be deterred, as he has suggested Russia needs a more autonomous Internet that could function independently of the rest of the world. This, Kostunov says, requires a set of software and technology solutions. One solution he offers is a special USB flash drive which “every Russian should have,” containing an ‘alternative routing system’ which could be launched in case of a Western-masterminded Internet blackout. The deputy did not elaborate on the details of this ‘alternative’ system or on what technologies could help make this possible.

The RuNet users reacted to the alarmist statement with a healthy dose of skepticism. Twitter user JosefK was full of scorn for Kostunov's suggestions:

@tjournalru Every Russian citizen should have a special USB flash drive and a tin foil hat to boot.

The fear mongering around Internet cut-offs is the latest example in Russia's ongoing quest for control over Internet access and user data. Earlier this week the Russian parliament moved to push the personal data storage law to an earlier start. The law, which obliges all online services with Russian users to store the users’ data on servers within Russia, will now come into power in January 2015, more that a year and a half ahead of the previously planned September 2016 date. Yevgeny Fyodorov, one of the deputies who lobbied for the earlier date, believes that Western sanctions endanger the RuNet users, and that the law will protect them.

Мы понимаем, что развязывание оголтелой информационной атаки идет по разным направлениям, под угрозой находятся и личные данные наших граждан. […] Чтобы избежать разного рода провокаций и исключить эскалацию информационной войны было принято коллективное решение, что можно ускорить введение в действие закона.

We understand that a ruthless information attack is being unleashed in many directions, and the personal data of our citizens is under threat. […] In order to avoid various provocations and to rule out an escalation of the information war, we've made a collective decision to speed up the law's coming into power.

Deputies are also concerned about Western Internet companies colluding with other states. Just this week, they accused Google of being anti-Russian and spying for Ukraine, after the Ukrainian state security service (SBU) announced it was cooperating with Google and YouTube in particular to thwart Russian efforts to manipulate and remove content online. Deputy Yevgeny Fyodorov believes the deal will allow Google to supply Ukraine with information about Russian Internet users, and has asked Russian authorities to investigate the matter, according to an Izvestia report.

As Russia becomes increasingly paranoid about threats to its information security, it will likely continue the trend towards the fragmentation of the global Internet, already evident in many other countries around the world. The security, however elusive, might come at the cost of free expression and unfettered access to the wealth of the world's information and communication resources, which many Russians have grown to enjoy.

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